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Google court decision: the right to be forgotten?

On 13 May 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that an individual can ask a data controller such as Google to delete his/her data in certain cases. This is the EU ‘right to be forgotten’ and is one of the most significant cases to affect EU privacy law to date. However, the case of Google v the Spanish Data Protection Authority also establishes that EU data privacy law can catch a US parent company that has subsidiaries in the EU. This is a seminal and far-reaching case with the potential to affect lots of search engines, social networks and digital media companies.

On 5 March 2010, Mr Gonzalez, a Spanish national resident, lodged a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Authority (AEPD) against a Spanish newspaper publisher (La Vanguardia Ediciones SL [La Vanguardia]) and against Google Spain and Google Inc. His complaint was in relation to the fact that when his name was entered into the Google search engine an internet user would be provided with links to two old announcements by La Vanguardia. These announcements, dating back to 1998, mentioned Mr Gonzalez’ name in connection with a real estate auction as a result of attachment proceedings for the recovery of Mr Gonzalez’ social security debts. Mr Gonzalez wanted the original content by La Vanguardia, as well as the Google search links to these announcements, to be removed. Mr Gonzalez argued that the attachment proceedings concerning him had been fully resolved a number of years ago and that reference to them was now entirely irrelevant.

After a ruling by the AEPD in favour of Mr Gonzalez (in relation to his complaint against Google), Google Spain and Google Inc brought actions against the AEPD’s decision before the Spanish National High Court (Audiencia Nacional). The court decided to refer certain questions on the interpretation of the Data Protection Directive 95/46 to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling…

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